Know your roots – the Siddi people of India

As a person of color, i am aware that i stand out when i travel. This is not to say that i take offense at the stares and the pointing, well, lets say that it depends in what style it is done

In Georgia, people would point at me, laugh behind their hands and say things, ofcourse i could not make out their words as first until i learned Georgian (a motivation)

It turns out they were muttering a word ‘Zangi” which passes for the N word. Now, i know the negativity behind the word but i was trying to understand why a stranger would say that to me, point and laugh. Georgian people and lets say most people in the caucaus region have not interacted with people of color, we are a rare sight for them. But to point at me, i do not understand. So whenever someone called me this word, i would stop and say ‘so are you, you are also a zangi” and then the faces would drop.

Once i confronted a lady, i told her its not nice to talk about someone to their face and even encourage the child with you to do the same. She apologised and said they were only commenting on my skin (blushes) and that its not common for them to see someone of color, but she thought my skin color is beautiful. Okay, so i swallowed my words

It is not easy standing out in a crowd, and most times you do not feel it until people start pointing at you or taking photos of you ( this feels like you are in a petting zoo) and no matter how much you shake the feeling, trust me its not easy

Why do i bring up the subject? I came across a video on the Siddi people of India, basically the black people in India and this to some people is bizarre. However, why would it be? The Indian ocean separates the Indias from Africa and both continents are located on either side of the Ocean, infact, some people from Bangladesh and even India are of brown skin that i do not understand why the fascination :

While visiting Iran, i got to meet similar colored people in the South of Iran, the Bandari people

Afro-Iranians (also known as African Iranians) ( persian: ایرانیان آفریقایی‌تبار‎) are people of black african descent residing in Iran. Most Afro-Iranians are concentrated in Hormozagan, Sistan and Baluchestan and Khuzestan.

I first met the Baluch people in Mashad while visiting Iman Reza shrine, and i have to confess that i was excited and scared at the same time. I was looking at the most beautiful people i ever saw, dark skin with colorful clothing and henna markings on their faces, and hands, but they also looked darn crazy in a mad way…

When talking about the diversity of Iran, most people will recall the various ethno-linguistic groups that are equally native to the Iranian plateau, like Persians, Azeris, Gilakis, Baluchis, and others who have migrated to the region through the centuries. In these discussions, however, Afro-Iranians and those of African descent are often ignored. Perhaps this stems from their limited exposure in mainstream Iranian culture. Or maybe it is because the legacy of African slavery in Iran contradicts the ever-so-pervasive Aryan myth of perfection and civilization. Regardless, most Iranians forget the Afro-Iranians and their rich traditions, despite their prominent cultural influence that persists today.

The majority of Afro-Iranians came to Iran via the Indian Ocean slave trade, a trade route between East Africa and the Middle East, which was dominated by Afro-Arabs merchants beginning in the ninth century. Because of the dispersal of slaves throughout the Middle East and subcontinent, virtually every country bordering the Persian Gulf has a legacy of slavery and African population, like the Afro-Iraqis, Afro-Pakistanis, Afro-Kuwaitis, Afro-Omanis, Afro-Saudis and so on.

Depending on where they settled, however, Afro-Iranians have assimilated with varying degrees of success. For example, Afro-Iranian communities in the Sistan-Baluchestan province function separately from the rest of society and perpetuate a rigid caste system within their community that offers little opportunities for social mobility.

The highest social class in the community are the Durzadehs, Africans who came to Iran for maritime work. The name Durzadeh comes from “dor” meaning pearl, a nod to their occupations in the Persian Gulf. Because of their notable status, the Durzadehs regard themselves as higher than the Ghulams and Nukars, who came to Iran as slaves. The caste system is so rigid that the marriage between the Durzadehs and the Ghulams or Nukars is strictly forbidden. In Bandar Abbas, however, the Afro-Iranian communities have assimilated to a much larger degree, and interracial marriages are not uncommon.

Despite the popularity of bandari music, however, the depiction of Afro-Iranians in popular media is fairly scant. The most famous portrayal of an Afro-Iranian is Bahram Beizai’s 1989 film Bashu: the Little Stranger. The film follows the story of a boy who is orphaned by the Iran-Iraq war and escapes war-torn Khuzestan for safety. Bashu finds himself in the entirely foreign Mazandaran province in Northern Iran, where his adoptive mother buys extra bars of soap to wash his skin clean from its darkness, children bully him for his complexion, and villagers call him a bad omen. Beizai addresses racism and ignorance directly, taboo topics in mainstream Iranian culture.

The neglect of Afro-Iranians by most Iranians stems from a number of factors, most of which stem from the Aryan myth. The Aryan myth effectively whitewashed Iran’s history, leading many to believe that true Iranians are only light-skinned and that Iran never engaged in slavery. Beyond this, the lack of Afro-Iranian presence in media further reinforces any preconceived notions that exist about Africans in Iran: that they simply do not exist.

Regardless of the reasons for the neglect, it is important to acknowledge the presence and history of the Afro-Iranian communities, not only for their sake, but with the intention of better confronting racist narratives, like the Aryan myth, that exclude so much of Iran’s population.

Next summer, i plan to return to Iran for 3 months and this time i hope to spend a significant amount of time in the South with the people of Bandar Abbas, and if time allows i will Sistan Baluchestan province as well in this video, they are talking about their lighter-skinned countrymen of the north. The Afro-Persian is making fun of people from Tehran, centre of Iran, who have lighter skin and have not seen black people among them, and he is describing the reaction of those people and asking him the reason why he is black, but in a very funny way. Basically a diss do all those Iranians who think Iran is only made up by Tehranis, Shirazis etc

But this guy right here is my favourite:




One comment on “Know your roots – the Siddi people of India

  1. Thanks a lot for this really informative post. When i travelled in Iran my most memorable, favourite time was on the south coast. Unfortunately most people stick to Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan and completely miss the Bandari south.


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